Interview with Gathering of the Vibes Director of Sustainability, Harry Moran
As mentioned in my interview with GOTV founder, Ken Hays, the festival has developed an exemplary musical model these past 19 years. However, they are also an excellent model for how a music festival can reduce its environmental impact, as well as facilitate community outreach and involvement. With a Non-Profit Village of about 18+ organizations and growing, some of which have longstanding histories with the festival, Vibes has certainly been an inspiration for other festivals in this light.
Alexandra Miller : Hi Harry! Thanks so much for taking time to speak with me today. I’m really excited to be writing a piece on this aspect of the festival, because it’s something I personally love about it. I guess my first question pertains to you specifically! How long have you been with the festival as the Director of Sustainability?
Harry Moran: “I got involved in 2001, and actually before that I had attended Vibes from the first one. My role started as helper/assistant coordinator of the Non-Profit Village in 2001, and then, as I like to say, I got in deeper and deeper, haha!”
Alexandra: Haha, so what was it like back in 2001 when you first got started? What were the first initiaves you did to be environmentally-conscious at Vibes? I recently wrote about the history about Gathering of the Vibes as a festival. What is the history of sustainability and eco-conciousness at Gathering of the Vibes?
HM: “Well at that point our Non-Profit Village was, I believe, 7 different non-profits, a few of them environmentally-based. We had Rock the Earth with a pretty high profile doing environmental work that connected with the musical community. There were various environmental issues and we were helping to raise consciousness and money. And there were a few others, as well, but I’m having to dust off some old memories of the earlier days! A few of the organizations we brought in to tell their story, which was in turn helping to inform and educate our own community, the Vibe Tribe. We have been involved with Headcount.org for a long time. We also have a very longstanding relationship with a company called Clean Vibes.”
Alexandra: Yeah, I see them at almost every festival!
HM: “Yeah, they are at a ton of different festivals. We had a strong program in terms of recycling and trying to divert as much material as possible out of the waste stream and minimize some of the footprint that goes along with a large event like this.”
Alexandra: That’s cool! And so it sort of just evolved from just recycling?
HM: “Yeah that was really the starting point and over time we’ve built on that. But that’s the main starting point for any event, you know? What happens with all the stuff!”
Alexandra: You guys have been around for a while, so I guess my next question is how do you feel that Vibes sustainability efforts have impacted other festivals, and perhaps even vice versa? Do you guys feel like trailblazers? I feel like in many ways, you are, like having such a large non-profit village, for one.
HM: “I think yes, because we’ve been doing this 19 years. I’ve had many conversations with people from other festivals who have wanted to learn from us and, not that we have all the answers by any stretch, but to kinda share some of what works and what doesn’t work. So we’ve had quite a lot of people from other events speak to us for that reason, because we’ve been around a long time and we’ve tried a lot of things.”
Alexandra: Yeah that’s what I was thinking when I was coming up with questions, that other events definitely recognize the success Vibes has had with many aspects of the festival, namely the overall organization and respect for the venue grounds where it’s held.
HM: “Yes definitely, and one of the ways to frame that is that it’s all about community. Seaside Park is a treasured community park in Bridgeport, so we take the responsibility seriously of taking care of the park and returning it to the city every bit as beautiful as we found it.”
Alexandra: Yes, I think that’s a really great way to phrase it, too, that you guys take responsibility for the space and respect the space. Another way Vibes gives back to the local community is through its annual Food Drive, sponsored by the Terrapin Foundation.
HM: “Yes, what we’re really stressing this year to our guests is to think about the Food Drive when they pack. We’re going to be having volunteers stationed right where the cars come in at the search point on Thursday and Friday, collecting non-perishable foods, as well as hygeine products. Make sure to pack your donation items last, so they’re right on top & easy to give to the volunteers, or to place in the donation bin, when you enter the gates! Donations will be accepted throughout the festival at the Terrapin Foundation Food Drive Tent, which will be located near the Ferris Wheel area and food court! We’re just trying to make it as easy as possible.”
Alexandra: That’s awesome. And everything is donated to local food banks, etc., so it’s going back to what you were saying about community.
HM: “Yes, and it’s also good when packing to coordinate with friends to share items, as well as to share transportation. We also want as few vehicles involved as possible. We’re right by the ferry, we have shuttle buses, and we’ve also got the Amtrak train and bus station. Public transit is pretty well covered, and I know that a lot of people certainly take advantage of that. Especially people coming from Long Island, they definitely utilize the Port Jefferson-Bridgeport ferry.”
Alexandra: Most definitely, I do myself! Everyone can do their part to make their festival experience more “green”, before, during, and after the festival! For example, it’s not just the Clean Vibes people with the clear and blue bags who should pick up trash; it’s all of our responsibility!
HM: “Most definitely, and the Vibe Tribe is really great about doing that, and we love them for it!”
Alexandra: A friend of mine and fellow Vibe Triber, Brian Grafstein, is a Solar Consultant at a New York-based company, Level Solar. He was curious as to what your take is on the current solar boom happening in our country? Are people finally realizing this is something we need to be harnessing?
HM: “I’m certainly glad to see more people harnessing the energy of the sun! Here at Vibes we of course have the Solar Bus, which an educational resource on renewable energy! We also have the BioBus, whis is kind of like a mobile science lab where people can go to learn from scientists about the ocean and ocean life, and even look at some sea creatures under a microscope! We will also be working with SolarGo Productions to sell solar-powered cell-phone batteries. You can swap them every 24 hours at their kiosk for a new, fully charged battery! As the sustainability director, it’s my dream to have a zero-waste, festival powered by renewable energy resources. But also through this role, I know the practical challenges that presents, as well. For example, our Green Vibes stage, even though it’s not the main stage, has turned into a major stage over the past few years, requiring more lighting, sound, and power. And some of the bands who are playing there expect that level of sound or lights. So it’s very hard to be able to predictably generate all of that power from solar. Although it would be ideal! We do have our Carbon Cutters team, who are volunteers participating in challenges year-round to help reduce their carbon footprint! Last year they prevented almost 2 tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere!”
Alexandra: That’s awesome! (More information on the Carbon Cutters team at Vibes can be found on their page via Carbon Rally.) Also on the Green Vibes stage is a series of political, environmental, and local speakers who will spread awareness about various causes. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
HM: “Yes the speakers will come out and talk in between bands, and my hope is that even if we have 50 people who stay and listen, that they will take that message home, and they’re going to still be thinking about it and doing something to make a difference outside of the Vibes world.”
Alexandra: Of course! That’s the same way I feel every time I see Phil Lesh, how even if 99% of the audience has heard his donor rap, he still comes out and spreads the message about organ donation, because there might be that one person who has not heard it, and maybe it’ll make a difference.
HM: “It’s funny you mention that actually, I’m a huge fan of Phil Lesh, as well. In the early days of Vibes, I was on the board of an organ donation organization in Albany, NY, so I reached out to Phil to see if he’d want to do something at Vibes to help spread the organ donation message (since he was on site performing). He ended up coming up and hanging out in one of our tents for a long time! People would bring their organ donor cards, and he signed as the witness! He couldn’t have been more generous with his time, and he really loves to get that message out!”
Alexandra: No way! That’s the best story ever! I feel like it truly represents the Vibes spirit.
HM: “Yes, that it’s about more than just us, more than just ourselves!”
Alexandra: Exactly, right on! Well, I thank you so much again for your time! It was a pleasure chatting with you!
HM: Thank you, Alex! And don’t forget to pack non-perishable items to donate, and to check out the Green Vibes Speakers! See you at the Vibes!
Below is the schedule for the Green Vibes Stage Speaker Series:
Fri. 12:15 PM: Long Island Sound Habitat Restoration with Gwen Macdonald (Save the Sound)
Fri. 1:50 PM: Kids & Teens World with Andy the Music Man
Fri. 3:30 PM: The World As It Could Be with David Gans & Henry Sidle
Sat. 12:15 PM: Terrapin Foundation Update with Wendy Gniady (Terrapin Foundation President), Kyle Murphy (Food Drive Coordinator) & Harry Moran (Vibes Sustainability & Outreach Director)
Sat. 2:00 PM: Local Green Energy Update with David Downie (Fairfield Univ.), Bob Wall (Clean Energy Finance & Investment Authority) & Harry Moran (Vibes Sustainability & Outreach Director)
Sat. 3:45 PM: Privacy & Technology with Logan Place (ACLU-CT)
Sun. 1:00 PM: Green Transportation Update with Jim Motavalli (Author, New York Times Contributor, Radio Host)
Sun. 2:45 PM: Money & The Political System with Daniel Miller (Represent.Us)
Below is more information about purchasing a solar-powered cell-phone battery at the festival:
Official GOTV Keepsake Batteries available online now at pre-sale pricing ($29), while supplies last. A portion of each sale benefits The Terrapin Foundation.
[Main Article Photo Credit: Gathering of the Vibes 2014 Food Drive Poster Contest Winner & Artist Cole Lemke aka Chump Magic. Special thanks to Harry Moran, Brian Grafstein, and all of the wonderful Vibes staff & volunteers!]